Don’t cry “foul” for me, Argentina.

May 20, 2013 in Rugby, Super Rugby

9b1e0a054fe74633a12795e7b5738836When it comes down to a toughly contested game where teams are evenly matched, and in the end the game is decided by a poor referee decision, one can always wonder if the power that be had some sort of hand in the outcome.  Friday’s match between the Stormers and Rebels turned out to have a couple of bad officiating which seemed to have robbed the Stormers of a much needed win, and we can go into the technical discussions later on.

However, the Stormers vs Rebels match isn’t one of those matches where the two sides are evenly matched. No. The Stormers is a vastly superior side to the Rebels. They have been, as the “child” of Western Province, been in the throes of Rugby for over a century, while the Rebels, well, they are newborns in the Rugby world, with no traditions to speak of, no history to count on, and very little else than a few mercenaries playing the game of Rugby on borrowed time.  It’s like a newborn baby taking on a seasoned athlete, it should really be no contest.

The Stormers and fans can cry foul all they want about one or two refereeing decisions that didn’t go their way, but really, when you play the Rebels and it comes down to one or two refereeing decisions, how can you cry foul? Why did the Stormers not thump them like they did a few seasons ago?

The Stormers have traditionally been the best travellers from a South African perspective, and this year they just ploddered around and made a mess of every game.  It is not the Stormers side I’ve become used to know and one can not blame the Referee for the disaster which was Friday. The Stormers only have themselves to blame.

A discussion on SA Referee’s went into depth into discussing a few Referee decisions on Friday.  Now, at no point am I suggesting these are why the Stormers lost, but it makes for interesting discussion nonetheless.


From SA Referees

(i) Retaking the penalty

Deon Fourie is penalised at a tackle. The Rebels’ captain Scott Higginbotham tell the referee that they were kicking at goal. Jason Woodward of the Rebels, receives the kicking tee, places the ball on it and takes careful aim at the posts which are straight ahead of him.

Meanwhile the Stormers gather in a close group for some kind of meeting.

Woodward comes forward to kick and at the lest minute swings across the ball and sends it bouncing near the cornerflag on his left as two Rebels and a Stormer race towards the ball.

The referee stops play and tells Woodward that he had indicated a kick at goal and was required to make a genuine attempt to kick at goal.

Then he says to the Rebels: Take it again.”


(b) If the kicker indicates to the referee the intention to kick at goal, the kicker must kick at goal. Once the kicker has made the intention clear, there can be no change of the intention. The referee may enquire of the kicker as to the intention.
Sanction: Unless otherwise stated in Law any infringement by the kicker’s team results in a scrum at the mark. The opposing team throws in the ball.

There is nothing in the law that suggests that ‘take it again’ is an option to the kicker’s team. It should have been a scrum to the Stormers.

It is not great if a referee makes a mistake in law.

(ii) Penalty try

The ball is bouncing all over the place. It seems to go forward from Luke Jones but the referee says it went backwards.

Nick Phipps of the Rebels gets the ball and passes it to Higginbotham on his right. Higginbotham kicks low with his left foot. It strikes the foot of Deon Fourie of the Stormers and bounces back towards Higginbotham. The ball strikes Higginbotham’s foot and rebounds forward. Martin Bezuidenhout gathers the ball. Higginbotham tackles Bezuidenhout, his left hand and arm going round Bezuidenhout’s front. Bezuidenhout drops the ball as he is tackled by Scott Higginbotham. Phipps foots the ball through towards the Stormers’ in-goal. Phipps goes to chase it as Bezuidenhout tries to hold him back, pulling on Phipps’s jersey.

The ball goes into the Stormers’ in-goal where three players dive for it – Bryan Habana, Gary van Aswegen and Nick Phipps. Habana seems marginally ahead.

The referee consults the TMO saying: ‘Please advise try, no try. And just go back to the last passage.’

The TMO examines the incident and says: ‘I’ve got confirmed foul play on a pull-back. Otherwise a try would probably have been scored.’

The referee repeats the information and then says that in other words the TMO was recommending a penalty try and a yellow card for Bezuidenhout – which is what happened.

Bezuidenhout’s foul play – is clear and obvious.

Law 10 deals with various forms of foul play.

Law 10.4 (e) Playing a player without the ball is dangerous play.

(h) Penalty try. A penalty try is awarded if a try would probably have been scored but for foul play by the defending team.

The TMO used the word probably. That was his judgement and it has the probability of being right. After all Habana just beat Phipps to the ball even though Phipps had been held back. It seems probable that he would have beaten Habana to the ball and so scored a try.

Accept all of that but what about the possible knock-ons by Jones and Higginbotham. The TMO appeared not to have examined them.

He was right not to have examined them.

The expanded TMO functionality includes identifying foul play, and clear and obvious infringements in the last two phases before a try is scored. All officials (the referee, assistant referees and TMO) are allowed to initiate a referral and make recommendations.

This would include a possible knock-on but applies only to a case where a try is scored. In this case the try was not scored. Then, according to the IRB’s protocol, the possibility of a knock-on could not be considered. Ands so the experienced TMO did not consider the possibility of a knock-on.

It may be a pity that the protocol did not allow for a case such as this but the IRB decided it had to draw the line somewhere other wise the number of referrals to the TMO would escalate.

If the referee missed a knock-on in Higginbotham’s tackle, it is understandable. It would not be easy to see where his left hand made contact with Bezuidenhout – the forearm, the hand, the ball. At east he did not guess.

In the case of the penalty try there is no infraction of law. One can only then discuss judgement and there is no evidence that it was faulty.

The protocol says this of dealing with an infringement other than foul play. Foul play my be examined anywhere on the field and at any time during play. It is not limited the way the examination of infringements is. Please, note again that it may not be used if a ‘try’ has not been scored.

Additional jurisdiction protocol .

2. Potential infringement by the team touching the ball down in opposition in-goal

2.1. If after a team in possession of the ball has touched the ball down in their opponents in goal area and any of the match officials have a view that there was a potential infringement, of any nature, before the ball was carried into in-goal by the team that touched the ball down, they may suggest that the referee refers the matter to the TMO for review.

2.2 The potential infringement must have occurred between the last restart of play (set piece, penalty/free-kick, kick-off or restart) and the touch down but not further back in play than two previous rucks and/or mauls

2.3 If the referee agrees to refer the matter to the TMO he will indicate what the potential offence was and where it took place. Potential infringements which must be CLEAR and OBVIOUS are as follows:

• Knock-on
• Forward pass
• Player in touch
• Off-side
• Obstruction
• Tackling a player without the ball
• Foul play
• Double movement in act of scoring

2.4 Referee judgement decisions for all other aspects of the game are not included in the protocol and may not be referred to the TMO.

2.5 In reviewing the potential offence the TMO must use the criterion, on each occasion, that the infringement must be clear and obvious if he is to advise the referee not to award a try. If there is any doubt as to whether an offence has occurred or not the TMO must advise that an offence has not occurred.

2.6 For forward passes the TMO must not adjudicate on the flight of the ball but on the action of the player who passed the ball i.e. were the players hands passing the ball back to that player’s own goal line.

2.7 If there has been an infringement, the TMO will advise the referee of the exact nature of the infringement, the recommended sanction and/or where play will next restart.

2.8 The TMO may mention issues viewed in addition to those requested by the referee if it is appropriate to the situation under review.



Although the conclusion is perhaps correct, the way SA Referee’s described the non adjudication of the knock on by Higgenbotham in the Penalty try instance is incorrect.  It is not because the try has not been scored that he may not have referred to the infringement, it is because the ball was not grounded by the Rebels. It makes a big difference, because saying a try wasn’t scored is incorrect, as a try has indeed been scored through a Penalty Try.

Thus, as much of a try was scored than when a referee asks to rule on a “try or no try” to check whether the ball was grounded or not and whether a forward pass occured in the run up to the ball being grounded in goal.

In my view, it should make no difference how the try was scored, ie through grounding or through a penalty try. If a penalty try is the result, but there was a knock on in the run up to the penalty try, the same TMO protocol should apply. What about a player being in front of a kicker, chasing the ball, being infringed and the Referee asking the TMO to rule? The TMO will not rule on the runner being in front of the kicker, he will only rule that the runner was infringed, therefore penalty try.

It sort of goes against the spirit of expanding the TMO’s responsibilities by limiting it only to situations where the ball was “perhaps” grounded.


4 responses to Don’t cry “foul” for me, Argentina.

  1. It seems that if this convoluted nonsense is the “law” then no wonder the referees continually screw it up. The laws are just to complex for one person to follow in the couple of seconds he has to interpret them. The IRB are a bunch of fools – the laws should be getting simpler not more difficult to follow, explain, coach and implement.

  2. Hahn said on May 20, 2013

    If the T.M.O. can see a blatant knock on/offside, surely they should be allowed to make a call. Limiting them so much does not help the game. They have introduced them to try and help referees who cannot see everything. By limiting them like this it makes absolutely no sense. It Just seems to be a waste of technology.

  3. As I said on Baylion’s post: The protocol isn’t properly thought out. Because of that the technically correct, but morally wrong decision is made.

    • The object was for tries that wasn’t tries to be disallowed. Now why is a difference being made between a try when the ball is grounded or a penalty try where in both circumstances the on field referee isn’t sure? Definitely not in the spirit of the law, but to the letter, yes.